A conceptual expressionist artist known for his powerful use of animal symbolism, Wallen Mapondera (b.1985) works in a variety of media. Deeply informed by Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis, Mapondera uses zoomorphic and anthropomorphic imagery to comment on power and inequality. He also explores human-animal relationships and cultural attitudes towards domestic animals, particularly the dog, ‘man’s best friend.’ These attitudes are also reflected in the way people use language and express prejudice.
Mapondera’s paintings speak to local and global issues around state power, corruption, authority, policing and protest. The deadening weight and sometimes brutal authority of bureaucracy denies basic human rights (including to migrants) whilst simultaneously allowing the rise of new powers such as China. The dog of authority has many faces: on the one hand it is loyal, spruced and eager; on the other, it is a deeply aggressive gate-keeper. Yet the dog’s future is fundamentally uncertain, given the global rise of protest against ethnic, racial, economic and other forms of inequality.
Mapondera also works with fabric and cardboard assemblage, transfiguring commonplace, mundane materials into new, unfamiliar forms. Sometimes using clothing in these assemblages, he refers to how we veil or disguise parts of our lives, and the extent to which this is futile, because truth always eventually prevails. He also references the Shona death custom Kugova Nhumbi, where the deceased’s belongings are distributed among family after being ritually cleansed. Reflecting on losing his brother, Mapondera poses questions about the (dis)comfort of such inheritances, and the emotional efficacy of this cleansing.
Mapondera graduated from Zimbabwe’s National Gallery School in 2007. He attended the Chinhoyi University of Technology in 2008 but, due to political instability, could not complete his studies. Mapondera has had multiple solo and group exhibitions in Zimbabwe, many of them at Gallery Delta. He has exhibited in France, Germany, the Netherlands, USA, South Africa, Mozambique and Australia. In 2015 he won Zimbabwe’s prestigious National Art Merit Award. He recently founded the Post Studio Arts Collective, where emerging artists mentor secondary school students to inspire their interest in the arts.